My small group has been studying the book of Lamentations for several months, and I’ve been enjoying it thoroughly. (How much my friends have liked it is another matter!)
I’ve noticed a theme throughout Lamentations—the relationship between suffering, judgment, and God seeing. This is particularly prominent in chapter 1 (I wrote about it here), but it appears in every chapter.
The aim of this post is to record all of the evidence, along with some minimal commentary. I don’t have an overarching conclusion to draw yet, though I may in the future. I welcome engagement in the comments.
When God Looks and Sees
We first encounter this theme in chapter 1.
O Lord, behold my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed! (Lam 1:9)
Look, O Lord, and see,
for I am despised. (Lam 1:11)
Look, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my stomach churns;
my heart is wrung within me,
because I have been very rebellious. (Lam 1:20)
None of these verses or portions of verses should be read out of context, of course. But we can see that the author of Lamentations is desperate for God to notice his sorry state. Even though this distress is a direct result of sin (verse 20), that does not change this desire.
In chapter 2, the only occurrence of this theme is accusatory toward the Lord.
Look, O Lord, and see!
With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb,
the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed
in the sanctuary of the Lord? (Lam 2:20)
This confrontational tone toward God is consistent with the rest of chapter 2. The cry here seems to be, Look what you have done, Lord! This shouldn’t be! This resonates with the usual beats of lament. Even though the Lord has brought on this suffering, the author wants God to take notice of the suffering state of the people.
In chapter 3, the references to God seeing are more positive.
My eyes will flow without ceasing,
until the Lord from heaven
looks down and sees;
my eyes cause me grief
at the fate of all the daughters of my city. (Lam 3:49–51)
When the Lord looks and sees, this will bring some relief from grief and weeping.
You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
you have redeemed my life.
You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord;
judge my cause.
You have seen all their vengeance,
all their plots against me. (Lam 3:58–60)
Now it is because the Lord has seen what has happened that he can “judge my cause” (Lam 3:59).
You have heard their taunts, O Lord,
all their plots against me.
The lips and thoughts of my assailants
are against me all the day long.
Behold their sitting and their rising;
I am the object of their taunts.
God has heard the taunts of the enemies, now he is asked to see (“behold”) all of their actions (verse 63). This is part of the basis of the author’s confidence that God will “repay them” (Lam 3:64).
In chapter 4, the theme of looking shows up in its absence. When God looks away, this is evidence of judgment.
The Lord himself has scattered them;
he will regard them no more;
no honor was shown to the priests,
no favor to the elders. (Lam 4:16)
“Them” refers to the prophets and priests who were unclean because of their great disobedience (see Lam 4:13–15). God’s judgment comes in that he has scattered these leaders and will regard (translated “continue to look at” in the NASB) them no more.
The final appearance of this theme is at the very beginning of chapter 5.
Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
look, and see our disgrace! (Lam 5:1)
The passage goes on to detail all of the disgrace of the people. This is almost a return to the requests of Lamentations 1, except there is a more satisfying ending to this chapter. The poet lists the disgraces of the Israelites so that he can request restoration. “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.”
The people have sunk down low, and the author of Lamentations wants God to notice that fall so he can restore them all the way back. That restoration involves, notably, a return to God himself, but that topic will need to wait for another article.